2 Thessalonians 2 is an amazingly prophetic end times passage. Like Matthew 24, it is also frequently misunderstood. Let’s shed some light upon this most exciting chapter!
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the apostasia [departure] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 ESV
The Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ
“The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” is the parousia. It is used to describe both appearing and coming, in an ordinary sense (showing up) as well as in the prophetic sense (a glorious event). The parousia of Jesus Christ occurs when He is revealed, which occurs when the skies are rolled back as a scroll. We are told in the book of Revelation that the skies are rolled back as a scroll to reveal Jesus Christ twice – once at Seal 6 (which I believe is the rapture), and once at the 7th Bowl (the Second Coming). For more on this, see here: The Parousia (Appearances) of Jesus Christ (1 Second Coming in 2 Phases).
Our Being Gathered Together With Him
“Our being gathered together to him” can also be interpreted as “assembling”. Paul previously taught the Thessalonians that at some point, the dead and alive in Christ would be gathered together and meet Christ in the air. This would be their reference for his current teaching. Gathering together, or assembling, with Christ is an EVENT, which occurs “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor 15:52). For more on our gathering, see here: The Rapture of the Church – Our Blessed Hope.
The Day of the Lord
The Day of the Lord is mentioned hundreds of times throughout the Old and New Testaments, both directly and indirectly. It refers to a future very specific and detailed time period in which God will pour out His wrath upon unbelievers. Through the Day of the Lord, God will also reconcile Israel to Himself. The Day of the Lord includes the familiar Seal, Trumpet, and Bowl Judgments. For a full discussion on the Day of the Lord, please see The Day of the Lord.
Examining the Concern of the Thessalonians:
The Thessalonians, viewing the persecution around them, were terrified that the Day of the Lord had come. They knew they were supposed to escape the Day of the Lord! So what happened? Why were they still here????
Paul replies, no, no, the Day of the Lord isn’t here. Don’t let anyone deceive you. The Day of the Lord will not come unless:
- The [apostasia] comes first
- The man of lawlessness is revealed, the one who will later take his seat in the temple of God and proclaim to be “god” himself. His coming will be by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception. This man of lawlessness is clearly the “antichrist” figure.
Paul then clarifies further about the revealing of the man of lawlessness:
- This mystery of lawlessness is already at work
- There is a “what” restraining the man of lawlessness that must be removed
- There is a “he” who is restraining the mystery of lawlessness and will continue to do so until “he” is out of the way
- The man of lawlessness will be revealed “in his time”, by the activity of satan with all power and false signs and wonders
And then Paul clarifies the reason behind the man of lawlessness:
- The lawless one will come with a wicked and very convincing deception for those “who are perishing”
- The ones “who are perishing” refused to love the truth and so be saved.
- God Himself will send a delusion upon those who are perishing, so that they will believe this deception of the lawless one
Please see Part 1 – That Day Will Not Come Until… for a discussion on how we know “the Day that will not come until…” is the Day of the Lord.
The apostasia [departure] comes before the Day of the Lord. This is such an important discussion that it has its own post here: Part 3 – The Apostasia [Departure/Falling Away] and the Revealing of the Lawless One.
The definitive article “the” indicates that this is a specific event, not a generic “falling away from the faith”, or a departure from sound doctrine, that was already present in Paul’s day and has continued throughout the church age. All early translations of the Bible (prior to 1500’s), translated the word apostasia as “departure” for good reason. The departure clearly fits into Paul’s prior teachings that the Thessalonians (representing true believers) would be saved from wrath and experience salvation. An honest examination of this passage in light of Paul’s previous teachings in 1 Thessalonians clearly indicates that the apostasia is the rapture of the church (gathering together of the saints unto Christ, catching up event, harpazo).
The Man of Lawlessness
In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul spends quite a bit of time discussing “the man of lawlessness”. From parallel scripture studies in Daniel, Revelation, and Matthew, we can definitively identify this man of lawlessness as the future “beast” or “antichrist”. Please see this post for further discussion on his identification: Part 3 – The Apostasia [Departure/Falling Away] and the Revealing of the Lawless One.
In that post we also discuss that upon the rapture of the church, the man of lawlessness will immediately be revealed somehow. This will likely come through supernatural signs and wonders, performed through the power of satan himself. Satan, the man of lawlessness (antichrist), and the false prophet form an “unholy trinity” and will work together to bring worship to the dragon (satan). Subsequent to his revealing, the antichrist will rise to power and at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week will seat himself in the temple and claim to be “god”. He will enjoy worldwide rule for 1260 days, then will be tossed into the lake of fire for eternity when Jesus Christ appears at the Second Coming.
You can be sure that Satan is chomping at the bit to reveal his man of lawlessness. He likely has someone on the sidelines at all times, ready to maneuver him into power as soon as the restraint is removed. Satan can hardly wait until he can fully express the mystery of lawlessness.
Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they know what is restraining the man of lawlessness, so that he may be revealed in his time. The mystery of lawlessness is already at work, although he who restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.
- The man of lawlessness is clearly the future antichrist
- The mystery of lawlessness is related to satan’s workings
- God is not a WHAT, but He is a HE.
- The body of Christ is a WHAT, that is indwelt by a HE.
God is the only one who can effectively restrain satan until the appointed time. The presence of the body of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is restraining the man of lawlessness. The Holy Spirit is restraining the mystery of lawlessness and will do so until He is taken out of the way. The interlinear translation reads “until out of the midst he might be gone“, as in, the Holy Spirit, along with the body of Christ, will be taken out of the midst of the lawless ones up into heaven. This is discussed more fully here: Part 2 – The Restrainer and the Restrained in 2 Thessalonians 2.
The Wicked Deception
The coming of the Lawless One, an antichrist figure (anti-Christ/anti-Messiah = opposing Messiah), will be accompanied with all power, false signs and wonders, and a wicked deception. The mystery of this deception is already at work; being set up, ready to burst forth when the restraint is removed. The wicked deception will come upon mankind in its’ fullness immediately after the “Restrainer” is removed. It will continue to unfold throughout the time of trial on earth (Jacob’s Trouble). The deception will be global and will be VERY convincing. God gives permission for this activity and sends a delusion that people would believe the lie, because they refused to believe His truth. While deception does not come from God, He will use it in order that His plans and purposes would be accomplished.
Note that the deception will be targeted at Israel and the Hebrew people, to attempt to convince them that the “anti-messiah” is the “true messiah”. Jews do seek after signs, remember.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:12-14 ESV
I personally believe that the wicked deception will somehow involve extra-terrestrial “aliens”, which are none other than fallen angelic beings. Angels, both holy and fallen, are interdimensional, and can appear and disappear at will in various forms. This “alien deception” is being systematically set up, particularly in the last 70 years. For more on this, please see: Part 4 – The Wicked Deception – “Aliens”?
Who is Perishing?
Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed… with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 2 Thessalonians 2 ESV
The interlinear translation of “until he is out of the way” reads “until out of the midst he might be gone“. The Holy Spirit, along with the body of Christ, will be taken out of the midst of the lawless ones. Those left behind are actively perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved (raptured…taken out of the midst of the earth and received into heaven). We have many New Testament passages that describe those who are perishing:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 ESV
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 ESV
Note the distinction made in 2 Thessalonians 2 between YOU (the Thessalonians) and THEY (unbelievers). Believers will not be sent a strong delusion from God, because they believe the truth. The Thessalonians love the truth, and will thus be saved. Salvation, escaping the wrath of God found in the Day of the Lord, is a genuine option just as taught by Jesus in Luke 21:36.
God sends THEM (unbelievers, the left behind, the perishing) a strong delusion that “they would believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” There is only one point in humanity’s existence when there will be no believers upon the earth – immediately following the rapture of the church. There is no partial rapture. All those who are actively being saved will be taken. All those who are left behind will be actively perishing. This seems severe, but God has sent warning signs and has withheld His wrath for a very long time:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 ESV
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV
What we can trust is that God is good, all the time.
Paul’s teaching of the end times timeline in 2 Thessalonians 2 is consistent with all his other teachings. The Lord Jesus Christ will appear and gather his believers together with him, receiving them into heaven, in a specific event called the “departure”. The Holy Spirit and His presence within the body of Christ will thus be taken out of the midst of the earth. With the restraining Person and influence gone, the antichrist will be revealed and the mystery of lawlessness will be fully expressed. This revelation will be supernatural, and accompanied by signs and wonders. How it will unfold we cannot know for certain in advance, but the fallen angels will most certainly play a part. The reason that God removes His restraint and sends a strong delusion to support satan’s lies is that those left behind “refused to love the truth and so be saved.”
The Day of the Lord must follow the departure of believers and the revelation of the antichrist. The antichrist will rise to power, and at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week will sit in the temple of God and proclaim to be “god”. This will start the time of worst Christian persecution the world has known. However, that comes long after the event that triggers his revealing. At the end of his rule, the antichrist will be defeated and cast into the lake of fire by Jesus Christ Himself.
Are you CERTAIN of your Salvation, beyond a shadow of a doubt? Do you KNOW that no matter when the rapture occurs, you will be counted worthy to escape? If not, please read What Must I do to Be Saved.
The Bible is infallible. I am not. I am merely challenging traditional models and testing them against Scripture. I believe that traditional pretribulation teachings provide a solid backbone upon which to lay the musculature of details, some of which I think might need to be adjusted slightly. I encourage you to consider my thoughts as you also examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!